Course description

Number: MBA 290C.1, EECS 201, IS 224, E298A

Title: Strategic Computing and Communications Technology

Course cross-listing or room share: Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (listed as an EE course, but intended for both CS and EE graduate students), Information Systems, Business Administration, Engineering. Satisfies core course requirement for the Management of Technology Program, although enrollment in MOT is not required.

Units: Three, taught each fall semester

Prerequisites: Graduate standing in the College of Engineering, Haas School of Business, School of Information Management and Systems. Space permitting, graduate students from other units, or advanced undergraduate students, may be admitted.

Time and place: 202 South Hall, TTh 2-3:30




David G. Messerschmitt

Roger A. Strauch Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences

Interim Dean, School of Information Management and Systems

Email: messer (at either or

Office hours (102 South Hall): Tu 10-11 and Thur 11-12





Hal Varian

Class of 1944 Professor, School of Information Management and Systems, Haas School of Business, and Department of Economics

Former founding Dean, School of Information Management and Systems

Email: hal (at

Office hours (??? South Hall): by email appointment




Amy Shuen of the Silicon Valley Strategy Group will also participate in the class



Catalog description

Factors strongly impacting the success of new computing and communications products and services (based on underlying technologies such as electronics and software) in commercial applications. Technology trends and limits, economics, standardization, intellectual property, government policy, and industrial organization. Strategies to manage the design and marketing of successful products and services.

What is to be accomplished

Especially after several decades of advances in raw technological capability, we have a set of marvelously powerful and cost-effective technologies. With notable exceptions, the burning issue becomes “what do we do with them?” There are several aspects to this question.

  • What do users want and what does the world need? This is “marketing”, and is not an emphasis of this course.
  • How do marketplaces in high technology work? By marketplace issues, we include complementarity and competition, cooperation, standardization, intellectual property, etc.
  • What determines industrial organization? How it is changing as a result of the new challenges? Is the organization of high-tech industries as effective as I might be?
  • What problems and issues in high technology attract or demand the attention of government policy makers?

The objective of the course is to understand these and related factors, then reference them back to the strategies of major players in the high technology industry. The scope of coverage includes hardware, communications, software, and information content, with an emphasis on the latter two areas. The course will actively involve the students in attacking these issues, especially through interactions among Business, Engineering, and SIMS students.

Learning goals

  • Appreciate the characteristics of information content and computing and communications technologies from a business and economics perspective.
  • Understand major strategic business issues surrounding the making, owning, selling, and using of content and technologies.
  • Understand industry structure, how it is evolving, and major issues that raises.
  • Appreciate major policy issues and the increasing role of government in this industry.

Classroom activities

Students are expected to read assigned sections of the two textbooks. For the most part, materials in the readings will not be repeated in class, but rather the class will supplement these readings with other activities:

  • Outside speakers who either bring specialized expertise or real-world experience and supplementary lectures from the instructors on newer topics not in the readings (see a tentative list here).
  • Consider “extreme scenarios” for the evolution of the high technology industry—one project group will be asked to think more deeply about each such scenario in preparation for the classroom discussion (see a tentative list here).
  • A small number of business cases will illustrate the impact of these issues on individual players in the industry.
  • Project presentations and project-group debates on major policy issues.

Group projects

Temporary student groups will be formed in the first week of class for purposes of supporting in-class “extreme scenario” analysis topics. At the end of the third week, permanent groups will be re-formed after enrollment has stabilized. The permanent groups will conduct two projects:

  • Technology analysis: studying some specific industry, company, product category, or patent portfolio illustrating the principles of this course.
  • Studying both sides of some relevant controversial issue and participating in a classroom debate with another group advocating one side of this issue.


Students will be assigned readings from two books (written respectively by the instructors). The tables of content (TOC, linked below) define the scope of the readings. From time to time other articles and Web sites will be assigned where they help preparation for a subsequent classroom discussion.

Required textbooks

Both of the following books are available at the ASUC and Ned’s bookstores:



C. Shapiro and H. Varian, Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy, Harvard Business School Press, 1998. [TOC is available under “Teaching”]










D.G. Messerschmitt and Clemens Syzperski, Software Ecosystem: Understanding an Indispensable Technology and Industry. MIT Press, 2003. [TOC]




Students will likely also be asked to purchase two to three business cases that will be used in the course.